“I’m always looking to expand my little universe…” - hmv.com talks to Paul Weller
Paul Weller turned 60 earlier this year, a time when most artists of his age and standing are beginning to slow down. Albums that used to arrive every two years begin to arrive every four or five, tours get bigger and more comfortable and more of your time is taken up by looking back for new reissues and retrospectives.
His contemporaries might be slowing down, but Weller is stepping up the pace. His new album True Meanings, which has just dropped, is his sixth of the last decade and his third in the last four years. He’s also now a film composer, having made his debut with the score to gutsy boxing drama Jawbone in 2017.
True Meanings is a departure for Weller from his recent work, with the jerky krautrock left behind and dreamy, 60s pop inspired taking centre stage. The Zombies' Rod Argent, Lucy Rose, White Label’s Tom Doyle and Noel Gallagher all guest on the album.
With the album now on shelves, we spoke to Weller about how he keeps up his prolific work rate, his plans to strip back touring and why he’ll never look back...
It’s only been a year since you last had a new album out, do you just never stop writing songs?
“Starting and stopping isn’t really how it works, it’s not something I get to decide, if the songs come to me then I have to follow them. With this album, it’s a bit different, it’s songs I’ve collected for the last five years. I’d been writing songs of a certain kind and they didn’t fit, they didn’t fit on Saturn’s Pattern or Sonik Kicks, so I had a stockpile.”
“It was more a case of waiting until I had a number of those songs and then putting them together. I’ve had it mind to do an album like this for a while, it’s a new thing, I’ve had tracks like it before, but never a whole album.”
Did you enjoy working with different types of arrangements?
“It was an amazing thing to do. I had two weeks at the end of the recording where a different musician would just drop in every day and it was just day after day of all these amazing people. Conor (O’Brien), Danny Thompson, Noel Gallagher, he played keyboards on a couple of tracks, all these little cameos. Nothing felt like hard work, it was a really joyful process.”
If you’ve been stockpiling tracks for five years, did any of the older ones need re-working?
“They were all arranged and ready to go. I wrote this album in quite an old-fashioned way, just at home on acoustic guitar, they didn’t need a lot of arranging. I knew who I wanted to have on each track, we had a few spontaneous things, people who were unexpected, but I had a plan of how I wanted it to go.”
What kind of album is it in lyrical terms? Is there a theme to it?
“There are a few themes, I don’t know how conscious that was. Ironically, four of the songs have been written by other people, Conor O’Brien wrote one and Erland Cooper wrote the lyrics on three others. But there’s a lot of mortality, people dealing with loss and grief, but also how wonderful life can be. Erland wrote the lyrics on ‘Bowie’ and ‘White Horses’, and quite independent of me he came back to those same themes. It’s not a conceptual record, but there are threads.”
How are lyrics for you? Are you always scribbling them down? Or do you need a melody to work to?
“I’m always making notes. Sometimes they turn into nothing, sometimes they end up as little bits of poetry, sometimes they become lyrics. I’ve always got a notebook on the go, I always have, it’s the closest thing I’ve got to a diary. It’s a cathartic exercise for me.”
When did you arrive at True Meanings as the album’s title?
“Towards the end of making the record. We had a few other ideas, but that said it all to me. It’s a quote from a song called ‘Aspects’. I liked it, these aren’t all my own true meanings, people can find their own true meanings in the songs.”
In terms of taking this record out live, how much is lined up? This is a more stripped back album, does that change the live show you come out with?
“We’re going to do two shows in October at the Royal Festival Hall, that’ll be with a 20-piece orchestra. We couldn’t tour that, it’d be too expensive. So it’ll be those shows, which we’re going to film and record, and then I don’t know. I couldn’t take that show round the world, it’d be a logistical nightmare. After these two shows in October, we haven’t got anything planned. I’ve got no idea about next year.”
Are you looking to stop touring for a while?
“It’s more of a practical thing. We were touring up to March this year and we went everywhere. We did a long American tour, two big UK and Europe tours, Japan and Australia. I don’t think I can play those places for another couple of years. I’ll want to have another album before we go again. We might do festivals next summer, but I don’t think we’ll play anything off this record.”
Is your focus already on the next album?
“I’ve started working on the next record and four or five songs are there for that. That’ll be my next project.”
You made your film scoring debut last year with boxing drama Jawbone, have you got a taste for that now?
“I’d like to do it again, I really enjoyed it, but I got lucky, I got carte blanche to do what I wanted and I don’t know how many films you’d be able to do that on. I was able to experiment. It’d depend on the film, I’d need to relate to the subject matter, I don’t think I could do a Hollywood blockbuster, it’d have to be something arty to get my teeth into.”
Are you attracted to more diverse projects now?
“Definitely. Diversifying can only be a good thing. I’m doing a project with the record label Ghostbox (an independent label with artists exploring the musical history of a parallel world) next year, which I can’t say too much about, but I’m excited about. I’m always looking to expand my little universe.”
What do you put your work ethic down to? Most artists of your age put out an album every five years...
“Even the younger artists do that. I consider myself lucky that I came up in that generation that you put out an album every year and when you weren’t recording you were out touring. My parents were hard-working, working class people, they gave me my ethics. But also, that’s what you did, you’d put an album out every year and three or four singles. The Beatles sometimes made two albums a year, that’s what you did.”
Do you get bored quickly?
“I do get bored quickly. Once an album is finished and done, even if you’re touring it, I’m on to the next thing.”
Presumably, you’ve got no interest in touring any of your older albums, anything retrospective?
“I couldn’t be doing with that, it’d do my head in. I don’t have that mentality. There’s no challenge in that, there has to be a challenge in doing something."